Information for Partners, Relatives and Friends

Psychological Responses to Trauma
It is hard for the person to get the trauma out of their mind. As time passes, people frequently review their values and priorities. When this happens, the importance of some things may diminish (money, material comfort, appearances, ambition, what other think etc) and other things become more important (relationships, time spent together, affection, helping others etc).

After a trauma, people often feel as though their life has been cut in half. Past experiences and achievements can become disconnected from future goals and plans. People sometimes need to reassess where their lives are heading and may even decide to change direction. Sometimes aspects of their personalities may alter as they adapt to their new values and understanding of life.
One of the hardest things of all is the loneliness of feeling that one’s closest family and friends do not understand what is happening, when it is too difficult to explain to them. The sense of isolation from those most needed when dealing with one of the most important events of one’s life can even feel like a second trauma.

The person may need to go on talking about the experience much longer than others think necessary. This continued review of events helps people to sort things out in their own mind. These symptoms frequently decrease as time goes on.
For some this experience is terrifying, leading them to believe that they -are losing their mind or developing some sort of mental illness. It may also appear this way to others. Your continued help and support is vitally important.

How to Help

  • keep communicating, both in words and actions
  • listen carefully and try to understand what the experience means and how its meaning changes over time
  • share in reviewing the past and future, in making new plans and changing life values and priorities respect privacy and the need to be alone with one’s thoughts and feelings, but do not let your loved one become isolated
  • be patient. It takes a long time for the consequences of trauma to unfold, to be dealt with and a comfortable relationship and lifestyle re-established
  • discourage excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs
    make time for leisure and relaxation together
    encourage your partner to get plenty of rest, sleep and
    time to reflect. Make sure YOU get adequate rest and that
    you both eat properly and get at least a moderate amount
    of exercise
  • help with practical tasks and responsibilities may also be needed .
  • sometimes other members of the family (parents, children, spouses) need support as much as the affected person
  • remember that recovery takes time, but most people recover well with their loved one’s support ;
  • don’t hesitate to seek help for any family member if you feel bogged down

We appreciate that this will be hard for you and understand that you too may need further help and advice.’
The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone!!
Psychological Therapies Gulson Hospital

Every year thousands of people become victims of traumatic events. In recent years names such as the Kings Cross Fire, the Lockerbie air disaster, the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster and the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster and many others have become household names because of the scale of loss involved, many people died and their loss was deeply mourned.
Individuals also experience traumatic events, rape, assault, murder, kidnapping as well as road traffic accidents. These often don’t achieve such media coverage as the larger disasters but the effects on the survivors of either being involved or witnessing such an event is just as devastating. What happens to the survivors?

Post Traumatic Stress Responses
Traumatic events frequently occur with a sudden violence that is completely unexpected. For many they are accompanied by physical injuries or the loss of loved ones, friends or relatives and/or the loss of property, but above all they may be followed by an intense emotional response. This response involves having feelings that are unique, powerful and unfamiliar. Ordinary things are no longer taken for granted; things may seem different, strange or unreal. This response may happen soon after a traumatic event or may be delayed and set off later by a seemingly less important event.

The person rarely understands what is happening to him/her and thus they find it difficult to tell others about it. For many these feelings will go away on their own, with a little help and support, but for others these emotions and thoughts can come to dominate their lives. People think that these feelings should only last for a relatively short length of time and become concerned when they continue, often getting worse. This makes it hard for their family to understand and cope with.

Their behaviour may take on an unpredictable pattern e.g. sudden fits of crying, panic attacks, irritability and angry outbursts often for no apparent reason. These loose interest in many aspects of their life, relationships (both sexual and Platonic), academic and work. They often feel constantly tired with little ability to concentrate. Their sleep may be affected and they may experience frequent nightmares. They may become depressed and lose their self confidence.

Any incident which has brought people into contact with death leaves an indelible image in their memory. These images intrude whilst the person is awake, or during sleep in the form of nightmares, No details are spared the survivor who may appear to others to have a “spellbound fascination” with the events. These images include all aspects of their experience, condensed into seconds. They can be triggered by everyday experiences such as television programmes, or things that people say or do. The resultant flashbacks which the survivors experience can vary in intensity from a simple fleeting feeling of anxiety to full blown panic; They may believe that they are back in the life threatening situation briefly losing awareness of their surroundings.

These flashbacks are very upsetting for the individual for two main reasons, firstly because of the pain of remembering and secondly because of their unpredictability and their apparent inability to control them, Many believe that they are going mad so are afraid to tell their loved ones what is happening to them. This further increases the gulf between the affected person and their loved ones. If this gulf is not bridged it can lead to confusion, bitterness, conflict and if it goes on for too long, to break down of relationships.